Monday, November 5, 2012

To upgrade or not to upgrade, that’s the question.

This would have been nice...

Upgrading when traveling sometimes poses the same dilemmas and choices as upgrading your software. Let me share with you my most recent travel upgrade experience, which was somewhat disappointing. Initially I was excited to get the email about my automatic upgrade to business class for my flight. As it was an early morning flight I was looking forward to a decent breakfast. However, at the gate, the agent told me that I owed them another $90 because I had run out of “stickers.” I reluctantly paid for my “automatic upgrade” as the flight was over 4 hours (which is my pain threshold for sitting in economy). Then, as I hungrily anticipated my breakfast, I was told they were out and that they only had cereal left as I was sitting in the last row. (Hint from a frequent flyer: Odd number American Airlines (AA) flights start serving breakfast in the back, even numbered ones in the front). Lastly, I took out my laptop only to find I could barely fit it in front of me as the person ahead had lowered his seat way back. So, lessons learned: I would have been better off keeping my exit row seat in economy, which would have been less expensive, and actually provided more legroom and workspace, something I’ll consider next time I’m offered an “automatic upgrade.”

Upgrading software can be a painful experience as well. I would classify these upgrades into the following categories: Operating System (OS) security upgrades, OS version upgrades, utility software upgrades and application software upgrades.

Security upgrades
These are a necessary evil. I say necessary because typically the longer you wait with these updates, the more vulnerable you are for a new virus or other malware product to hit your computer and potentially impact your system integrity. Although remote, there is the possibility that the upgrade will interfere with your other software, therefore, if it concerns a major upgrade, the vendor of your application software should typically test and release an upgrade for implementation. If the vendor takes too much time, you should do a risk analysis to assess the chance that you could be hit by a new threat, which depends on the firewalls and other measures you have in place to isolate your system, and weigh that against the risk that the upgrade by itself could impact system integrity. As a general rule, I suggest never allowing automatic updates, rather do updates manually after looking at the risk, and always test the upgrade first yourself.

OS version upgrades
This is a major issue, especially as we are about to go through this once again with Microsoft Windows 8. I would guess that the majority of institutions are still on XP, which, if you include Vista, is three versions behind Windows 7. Why change if something works? If there is no reason and/or need for additional functionality, I would stay with the old version as any new version requires training, testing, and impacts device integration as well. Some of the older peripherals might not even be able to work due to a lack of driver support by the vendors for new upgrades. Unfortunately, you might be forced to upgrade as the support for the old OS expires, but my suggestion is to postpone this type of upgrade as long as possible.

Utility software upgrades
Also a major issue, although most vendors have become smarter after being burned a few times. A notorious example of this used to occur every time a web browser such as Internet Explorer was upgraded, which would break web viewing software. Most software packages are starting to implement solutions that are as much as possible platform independent. Make sure to test any upgrades and again, postpone the change as long as possible unless you need specific new functionality.

Application software upgrades
Some new releases are known to have more bugs and/or be less reliable than their previous versions. A general rule of thumb is to stay away from any release that ends with a “0,” for example, but wait till the next level such as level “x.1” or even later, to make sure that all bugs have surfaced and changes been made and tested by someone other than yourself. If you use any “plug-ins” or other applications that are tightly connected, for example a special processing package, or a voice recognition application, make sure you are upgrading those at the same time, or verify compatibility as they need to be modified as well in many cases.

In conclusion, software upgrades in general are a necessary evil, and, as with upgrading during my travels, I would not automatically upgrade, but rather look at the alternative as you might be better off staying where you are.